According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 106 million Americans - or one-third of the total population - are currently 50 years of age or older. With unprecedented increases in life expectancy over the past five decades (see the World Bank's chart), the numbers of "older folks" among us show no signs of slowing down - and neither do the folks themselves.
To meet the diverse and changing needs of this growing population, companies, organizations, and government entities are focusing on initiatives that foster increased economic, health, and social well-being for older Americans. A national campaign recently launched by Enrich Life Over 50 (ELO50), for example, has issued a call for innovative ideas for new products and services that enhance life for those over 50. And while innovations like these should help older Americans stay healthy and happy longer, they also have the added benefit of fueling economic growth for all generations.
In service of its mission to enhance U.S. competitiveness and quality of life through the coordination of effective standardization, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is engaged in a number of activities that improve the lives of Americans over 50. Whether through directly administered programs and initiatives, or as the accreditor of other organizations' standards-related work, ANSI supports the health, safety, and well-being of the older-but-better crowd.
A 2013 study by UK think tank Nesta found that older people have three major goals for their lives: to have a purpose, to have a sense of well-being, and to feel at home and connected to others. These priorities are often interdependent, and so are the technologies that help to achieve them. One group working to ensure the performance and safety of products, systems, and services that enable older adults worldwide to stay connected is the newly formed International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) Systems Committee (SyC) - Active Assisted Living (AAL). The U.S. participates in the new SyC via a U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG), approved by the U.S. National Committee of the IEC (USNC) and led by UL (to get involved, email the TAG secretary, [email protected]). An integrated committee of ANSI, the USNC serves as the focal point for U.S. parties interested in the development, promulgation, and use of globally relevant standards for all areas of the electrotechnical industry.
IEC SyC AAL will coordinate ambient assisted living standardization work across numerous relevant IEC Technical Committees (TCs), and establish interoperability of AAL systems and accessible design of user interfaces. AAL systems encompass a broad array of products, services, and facilities used to support those whose independence, safety, and well-being may be compromised by health, mobility, age, or other factors. For example, IEC TC 100, Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment, under U.S. leadership, recently published IEC Technical Report (TR) 62907:2014, Use cases related to ambient assisted living (AAL) in the field of audio, video, and multimedia systems and equipment.
Another important standard for assuring the well-being of older Americans with disabilities or mobility issues was recently published by ANSI member and audited designator ASTM International. ASTM E2951-13, Standard Guide for Community Emergency Preparedness for Persons with Disabilities, provides templates for protocols, procedures, systems, and other mechanisms to promote an integrated approach in local emergency preparedness efforts. The objective is to address issues that the disability community has faced in past emergencies and systematically establish methodologies to increase safety and survival.
The 2010 Census reported that the U.S. has the greatest number of centenarians of any nation - a praiseworthy statistic. But as post-retirement periods increasingly span decades, many Americans are facing financial hardship and looking for second careers or alternative sources of income later in life. The labor market, however, can be found to be inflexible and out of step with the new demographics. Strategic workforce planning is key to ensuring all segments of the population have the skills and the opportunities they need to thrive, and the recently launched ANSI affiliate Workcred is initiating activities to support a more inclusive, dynamic U.S. workforce. Through the creation of a competency-driven credentialing ecosystem, with third-party accreditation and effective conformance to standards, Workcred will help foster a system in which employers can more easily find the right workers and job-seekers can find the right job - whether they're 18 or 88.
The common goals of older Americans - a sense of purpose, autonomy, connectedness, and well-being - are really no different than those of everyone, and standards and conformity assessment are helping the young, old, and everyone in between achieve them.